Wednesday, December 31, 2014

443 (2014 #71). Christmas in Twilight

by Lori Wilde

This is the tenth and latest story in Lori Wilde's Twilight, Texas series, and I thought it was really good - both romantic and suspenseful.

This isn't a reunited lovers story, like most of the others in the series, but that's OK.  Characters from the earlier novels appear in this one, but you don't have to read any of those books to understand this one.

Brian "Hutch" Hutchinson has returned to his hometown of Twilight, suffering from PTSD, released from Army Delta Force after losing a finger and his voice as the only survivor of a failed military operation.  He comes to his Brazos River house only to find his mentally-ill sister Ashley gone and a strange woman and her son taking care of his niece.  Jane Brown immediately pepper-sprays him.

Jane turns out to be Meredith Sommers, on the run from her abusive ex-cop husband.  Hutch of course falls for her immediately, but he also needs her to stay and continue to care for his niece.  This gives time for their relationship to develop through the holiday season (thanks to both wanting to be sure the two kids have a great Christmas) and for the suspense about what has happened to Ashley as well as to the ex-husband.

I don't want to give away any more of the story.  It was not entirely predictable.  Hutch and Meredith were very likable characters, even though their actions were not always realistic. (For example - Meredith demanding to make the rules for the two of them living in the house Hutch owns.)  I enjoyed the way Lori Wilde wove in characters (major and minor) from previous stories in the series, and even some plot points like the kismet cookie legend from The First Love Cookie Club.  Lori even worked some of her personality into Meredith - they both practice yoga.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[I received this autographed paperback as a gift from Lori Wilde - I'll be hanging on to it.]

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

440-442 (2014 #68-70). Three Picture Books

Karen Patkau's Who Needs a Desert? is a basic introduction to desert ecosystems.  Double-page digitally-rendered illustrations feature desert plants and animals with text that will encourage readers to find the one described.  The best ones are those in the section on "Living in the Desert" which move through a day from early morning to late at night.  A little more information is provided about each plant and animal in four pages near the end of the book.  This section would have been better with larger illustrations, perhaps paired with actual photographs.  The glossary on the final page is a plus.  This is one of six books in the author's Ecosystems series.

Edie's Ensembles, written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, has wonderful, colorful illustrations, but I'm not sure what the point of the story is.  It seems to be saying "clothes do not make the [wo]man" when Edie realizes she "had been lost underneath all those clothes," but on the very next page, she once again goes "to school in one of her most daring outfits."  It's not clear to me that Edie learned anything.  Two-and-a-half stars for the cute little anthropomorphic animal characters and the vibrant "ensembles."

Edgar is a barnyard rat who thinks he's being followed by an earthworm. This is a cute story with a surprise ending, which may or may not be as good for re-reads, depending on the audience.

The unbound advance reader edition I received, translated  from French, doesn't have a statement as to the type of media used in the vibrant illustrations, but author/illustrator Jean-François Dumont has stated in a July 2014 interview that he paints "with an acrylic resin or oil pigments." Dumont's book A Blue So Blue won the 2004 Prix Saint-Exupéry, an award given annually to the best illustrated picture book in France.

Dumont also says, "Edgar the rat is my favourite character, I do not know exactly why. He is the first character in the series of the farm that I created, and he has a bad temper but he is nice to draw." Some of the other books in his barnyard series, also translations from French, are The Chickens Build a Wall, The Geese March in Step, and The Sheep Go on Strike.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[I received hardbound copies of the first two books through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  They have both been added to my university library's collection.]

Sunday, December 28, 2014

439 (2014 #67). NPR Driveway Moments: Love Stories

National Public Radio (NPR) describes a "driveway moment" as the unwillingness to stop listening to an unfinished story on your car radio once you've reached your destination - you are compelled to hear the end of the story.  I don't think many (if not most) of the stories in this "love stories" collection were of that type for me, however.

This anthology consists of 24 segments that first aired between Valentine's Day 1990 and July 29, 2014.  The shortest segment (also my favorite) was just over two minutes; the longest was seventeen.

I don't listen to NPR, so perhaps I was not the best audience for this book.  I do listen to a LOT of audiobooks on my long commute, which is probably why I received this to review.

What made some segments more enjoyable for me were the musical interludes that ended them.  For example, my favorite, the two-minute StoryCorps segment called "A Fiery Valentine's Day for Two Firefighters in Love" ended with the first verses of Elvis Presley's "Burning Love."  Another much longer segment (eleven and a half minutes) called "Happily Married Couples Tell Tales," about three couples with long marriages (32-38 years), eneed with some lines from Al Green's "Let's Stay Together."

The funniest segment was the first one on the second disc, "The Complexities of Modern Love in the Digital Age," on what might happen if two automated customer service voices, a male one and a female one, were to have a relationship. That one ended with the refrain from 867-5309.  I also got a kick out of the most recent segment (July 29, 2014), "OKCupid Messes with Love in the Name of Science," about the online dating service that deliberately messed around with the matchmaking algorithms for some of its subscribers in an experiment.  Needless to say, paying subscribers were not happy, and "Stupid Cupid" is an appropriate song here.

Stories about letters sent to Shakespeare's Juliet (answered by the Juliet Club in Verona, Italy), 1940s love letters found after Superstorm Sandy, and 1934 courtship letters between Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson sparked my interest from a historical viewpoint.

All in all, this was an enjoyable collection, good for times you need something to listen to that is short and easy.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[I received this audiobook from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for a review.  The audiobook will be donated to my university's collection.]

Thursday, December 25, 2014

438 (2014 #66). The Sweethearts' Knitting Club

by Lori Wilde

This is the first book in the Twilight Texas series - and I read it after numbers 3, 4, and 2.  Didn't like it quite as much as the others, I think because the heroine did not seem to be committed enough to her supposed true love.  If I were Jesse, I'm not sure I would have given Flynn so many chances.

Flynn McGregor is the oldest of the four children of recovering alcoholic Floyd and her late mother Lynn (Flynn is an amalgamation of her parents' names).  Since her mother's death, Flynn has cared for her family and worked in their business, a local restaurant.  She hasn't had any time for herself, which may be part of the reason she's turned down the marriage proposal of the local sheriff, Beau Trainer, four times.  But when her crush from high school, Jesse Calloway, is released from prison early and comes home to Twilight, it's pretty clear why Flynn has hesitated.  Jesse was framed by Beau, and he's out for retribution.  Jesse is your typical bad boy with a heart of gold, and I can understand some of Flynn's hesitance to trust him, but I think if someone is your soul-mate, you'd stand up for him a little more.

This story is set in the summer (completing the seasons - the other books in the first four in the series are set in fall, Christmastime, and spring respectively).  It doesn't seem quite as linked to my town of Granbury, Texas, on which Twilight is based.  I lived just a few blocks from the square, and it's hard for me to think about the building that used to be a movie theater there burning down, as I have wonderful memories of the restaurant that used to be in its loft.  The Brazos River itself plays a bigger part in this book - Flynn's family lives on it, their restaurant is at the marina, she and Jesse used to meet at a secret spot, and an old bridge over the river plays a big part in the story.

Some of the backstory is provided for (future sheriff) Hondo Crouch and Patsy Calloway Cross, one of the older ladies in the book who is a member of every club in town.  There's also a hint about the next book, as the club ladies refer to the scandal about Trixie Lyn[n] Parks, aka Emerson Parks, which is the basis for novel #2 in the series, The True Love Quilting Club.  In the latter, Emerson becomes Emma.  There are some truly funny incidents and conversations in this book, and despite the weak heroine, it was a fun read.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This paperback was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

437 (2014 #65). Beautiful Ruins

written by Jess Walter,
performed by Edoardo Ballerini

What an intricate story!

It begins in 1962, in a tiny coastal village in the Cinque Terre area of the Italian Riviera.  Pasquale Tursi is a young innkeeper, and Dee Moray is the young actress with a minor role in Cleopatra (being filmed in Rome) who arrives there, supposedly dying.

The story then moves to 2012, when an elderly Italian gentleman arrives in Hollywood looking for an aging actress.

The story moves back and forth between these time periods and others, introducing other characters (including Richard Burton), all of whom are connected in some way - it's pretty clear by the end.

I became interested in this book when it won the 2013 Audie Award for Solo Narration - Male; and was also a nominee for the award for Fiction and for Audiobook of the Year.  I saw the audiobook at my local public library and decided to try it.  Liked the book so much I bought a copy and also put the book on the discussion list for my book club next year.

I love the cover artwork of the print and audiobook - the image looks like an old, worn-out postcard.

In a question-and-answer session at the end of the audiobook, author Jess Walter says that writing Beautiful Ruins "was especially challenging...because of its braided stories, the intertwining of all those characters and those styles," which included a chapter from another novel set during World War II, a chapter from the memoir of a Hollywood producer, the script from a play, and a pitch for a movie set in 1846 - although I'm not quite sure why the latter was included.  The print book uses different typefaces for each of these.

Walter said he was inspired to write the book from a trip to the Cinque Terre in 1997, the year his mother died of cancer.  He worked on the novel for 15 years, writing four others in the meantime.  He says,
Pretty soon I began to see the book itself as a kind of celebration of storytelling in all those shapes and forms.  The beautiful ruins of the title mean a lot to me - the ruins of Italy, the ruins of Hollywood, the characters themselves.*  But also storytelling itself, which is a kind of lovely ruin for us.  There are these artifacts that we leave behind, the stories we tell about who we were and what we cared about.

(* One of the epigraphs at the beginning of the book quotes Louis Menard describing Richard Burton in 1980: "fifty-four at the time, and already a beautiful ruin, [he] was mesmerizing.")

Actor Edoardo Ballerini is fluent in Italian, but I do wish he or the producers had taken the time to learn how to properly pronounce Cle Ellum and Willamette - characters living in Seattle would not mispronounce them.  Nevertheless, he was an excellent narrator, most deserving of his award and nominations, who contributed greatly to my enjoyment of this book.

Definitely worth a re-read - which is why I bought a copy.  I will be purchasing the audiobook for my university library, as I'd liked to listen to it again too.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library, and I also bought a print copy from the local Friends of the Library book store.]

Saturday, December 20, 2014

436 (2014 #64). The True Love Quilting Club

by Lori Wilde

This is the second book in the Twilight, Texas, series, set in a mythical small town modeled on my home of Granbury.  In this reunion tale, Sam Cheek and Emma Parks, friends when they were 14, are the lovers.  Emma, then known as Trixie Lynn, lived in Twilight only one year with the man she thought was her distant father, only to learn he is her stepfather.  Her mother left the family long ago to pursue her dreams of stardom.  Trixie has stars in her eyes, too, and at 18 changes her name to Emma and moves to New York City to take up acting.

Twelve years later, down to her last penny and in trouble, she receives an invitation to do a play in Twilight.  Sam has become the town's veterinarian, and he is also a widower with an adopted son from his late wife's first marriage (that man also died).  Sam and Emma are still attracted to each other, but they hesitate to get involved, as they are very different (opposites attract) and Emma is not ready to give up her acting.

Emma is invited to join the local quilting club and help make quilts that will be the backdrops for the play she is performing in.  There are some heartfelt moments in this book as Emma unintentionally helps Charlie come out of his grief-induced silence, in part simply because of her resemblance to his late mother. Emma comes to terms with her own past too as she and Sam learn they complement each other.

I didn't like this book quite as much as the other two I've read in the series, partly because I think very few people meet their one true love at age 14 (so I couldn't relate), and partly because I found Emma to be a bit self-centered and not as likable as other heroines in this series.  However, I LOVED the hero, Steady Sam!  And of course the setting - this time, most of the events occur in the fall in Twilight, instead of spring or Christmastime.  The book even incorporates my employer, Tarleton State University, referring to students from its drama department participating in the play.

On to the first book in the you can see, you don't have to read the first four in order.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The e-book was borrowed from and returned to the public library.]

435 (2014 #63). The Welcome Home Garden Club

by Lori Wilde

I got to meet Lori Wilde at a meet-and-greet two weeks ago in my town of Granbury, the inspiration for the fictional town of Twilight, Texas, the setting for this book.  Lori wrote about her visit in USA Today.  I was at the opening reception, and was invited to attend the writer's workshop the next day, where Lori and her editor, Lucia Macro, spoke about "Creating a Sense of Place: Or How to Write a Community-Based Series," and writing (and getting published) romance (and other) novels in general.

One of the things they talked about in the workshop was romance tropes.  A trope is "a common literary or thematic device used in storytelling."  I think the reason I like the Twilight, Texas, series  - besides the fact that I can see bits of Granbury in the setttings - and sometimes the minor characters - is because the trope they have in common is that of  "reunion – our lovers knew each other in the past and generally had some romantic relationship back then."   That's my personal romance story, too, so I can especially relate to these.

The Welcome Home Garden Club is the fourth book in the series, but you don't have to read them in order.  Lori Wilde creatively weaves multiple tropes (which I've italicized) into this reunited lovers story.  Caitlyn Blackthorne Marsh is the daughter of the local judge, who is rather overprotective since his wife died young.  Her high school sweetheart is Gideon Garza, the illegitimate son of the richest man in town and a Hispanic maid (class warfare/wrong side of the tracks).  Gideon burns down his father's barn after his mother's death (when he learned the truth about his parentage), and the judge - Caitlyn's dad - gives him a choice: join the military or go to jail.  So Gideon heads for Iraq and is later reported to be dead (which turns out to be machinations of the judge - forbidden love).

Unbeknownst to Gideon, Caitlyn is pregnant with his child, Danny (secret baby).  She marries another man, but is a widow when the story opens eight years later.  Caitlyn owns the local flower shop and is a member of the garden club.  She's asked to design a romantic victory garden for a state competition.

Gideon's father dies and he returns to his hometown to try to find some closure.  He has scars from the war, both physical (an artificial hand) and emotional.  This tortured hero learns he is his father's secret heir, much to the displeasure of his two half-brothers, one of whom is courting Caitlyn (love triangle).

Caitlyn becomes a woman in peril/damsel in distress when a buried bear trap badly injures her arm while she works on the victory garden, and Gideon moves in to take care of her and be her protector - and get to know his son. He's also hired to restore the historic family heirloom carousel belonging to Caitlyn that is the centerpiece of the garden (and the source of much of the angst with her father), which has been named the Welcome Home Garden to honor returning members of the military.  The romance progresses from there.

I particularly enjoyed the ladies of the garden club (who are also members of the cookie, quilting, knitting, and book clubs - although there's no book about the latter--yet).  Raylene, Christine, and some of the others are starting to feel like old friends, and younger main characters from the first three books in the series, Flynn, Emma, and Sarah, are now members of the club(s) too.

I also LOVED Lori Wilde opening each chapter with the traditional meaning of a particular flower, from the Victorian language of flowers, and then working that particular flower into the chapter in a way often relevant to its meaning.  In an early chapter, she also associates different kinds of teas with the members of the garden club, having Caitlyn observe "how people's choice of tea seemed to reflect their personalities" (page 12).

At the meet-and-greet, Lori gave me a signed copy of her latest Twilight book, so now I have three more to read.  Great series for this time of year, when I'm so busy with holiday preparations and could use some light reading.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The e-book, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to the public library.]

Sunday, December 07, 2014

434 (2014 #62). The King's Curse

by Philippa Gregory,
read by Bianca Amato

I didn't realize there was going to be a sixth book in Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War series, about the royal women of the War of the Roses.  This book is about Margaret Pole, a first cousin of Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII and the subject of the fifth book in the series. The White Princess. Margaret Beaufort, Henry's mother and the subject of the second book in the series, The Red Queen, is also a character in this book.

Despite its length (597 pages in print), and Gregory's ongoing problems with frequent and unnecessary repetition of the full names and titles of characters in conversations (which would not happen in real life), as well as "She shrugs" and "He nods" and variations thereof, I liked this book better than the last two in the series.  Margaret Pole is much more interesting than either Elizabeth of York or Anne Neville (The Kingmaker's Daughter, book four), who were rather passive characters.

Because Margaret Pole lived such a long life (1473-1541), her life also intersects with Henry VIII and his first three wives.  She's especially loyal to Catherine of Aragon and her daughter, Mary Tudor.  Margaret is also a devout Catholic who, along with her three surviving sons, is upset with Henry VIII for his persecution of the Church.  Along with the fact she has royal blood and her sons are potential rivals for the throne, Margaret has more than enough in her life to arouse the suspicions of the king.  She manages to do so, more or less, for her first 65 years.

Gregory's four-page author's note at the end of the book explains some suppositions for her fiction and purports an interesting theory about Henry VIII's degeneration and the loss of so many Tudor babies.  I was also surprised to learn that Margaret Pole was beatified as a martyr for the Catholic Church.

The print version also includes an eight-page bibliography of  five-plus pages, two maps, and two family trees, one at the book's beginning dated 1499 (where the story begins) and another at the end dated 1541 (when the story ends).  I wish the latter had gone ahead and included post 1541 death dates for those still alive when Margaret was executed.  I would have liked to have known how long her three surviving children lived beyond her death, without having to look them up.

The audiobook doesn't have the bibliography, maps, or charts, although they could have been easily added as a PDF file.  The story is told in first-person by Margaret, and is read by South African actress and audiobook veteran Bianca Amato, who also does an excellent job creating a voice for Margaret that ages as she does.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Friday, December 05, 2014

433 (2014 #61). The Valentine's Day Disaster

by Lori Wilde

This novella is actually a good length--192 pages in paperback, although I read the e-book, so I'm not sure if that page total includes the four excerpts and one sneak peak of other books that are in the Kindle edition.  Like the others in the series, it is set in my town of Twilight (Granbury), Texas, with events and settings that actually exist (or happened).

Sesty Snow is an event planner who is running a date-with-a-bachelor fundraising auction, an event "designed to bring additional tourism dollars into Hood County and justify the new lakeside conference center that some gung-ho politico had convinced voters they needed."  (So true!)

"Hunks-in-the-Hood" (known here as Handsome Hunks of Hood County) will benefit Holly's House (known here as Ruth's Place), which provides medical care to needy families in the area.  Sesty has twelve bachelors lined up, but one is no longer available due to an injury.

Who walks in to take his place (as community service for damaging the local judge's half-sister's garish Valentine's Day house decorations)?  None other than injured NASCAR driver Josh Langtree, Sesty's high school sweetheart.

You can figure out where things go from there.  Lori Wilde also incorporated a tornado into the storyline:  "The previous year, a tornado had hit Twilight and lives were lost, and now everyone was edgy when it came to thunderstorms."  Very true for me since Granbury's May 2013 tornado!

This novella seems to stand alone - it's not crucial to have read any other books in the Twilight, Texas series, although doing so probably makes some of the characters and settings feel more familiar.  Thankfully Sheriff Hondo Crouch only has a single brief mention in this book.

Overall - a fun, quick read for Valentine's Day or any other time you want a little romance.

Less than two hours until the meet-and-greet with Lori Wilde - now I feel prepared!

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to the library.]

Thursday, December 04, 2014

432 (2014 #60). The Christmas Cookie Collection

by Lori Wilde

The Christmas Cookie Collection is an anthology of four brief novellas featuring characters from the Twilight, Texas series.  Each novella is a "Christmas Cookie Chronicle" with the name of the featured character in the title.  All of the stories are occurring in the holiday season a year after the events in The First Love Cookie Club.

The stories, in order, are titled Carrie, Raylene, Christine, and Grace, and that was also the order in which I liked them.  For me, Carrie was a new character, introduced in the first book in the Twilight Texas series, The Sweethearts' Knitting Club, which I have not read.  Carrie owns the town's yarn shop, and her ex-husband Mark (they married when she was 17 and he 19; it was quickly annulled) is back in town.  He's the host of a reality show trying to disprove Twilight's legend about high school sweethearts.  While the story is somewhat predictable, the ending still brought tears to my eyes.  At 101 pages, the story is long enough to feel complete.

Raylene's story is really more about her long-lost daughter, Shannon, and Nate, a regular at Raylene's bar.  This story, the longest of the four at 135 pages, and also rather predictable, does answer some questions raised in The First Love Cookie Club, which I have read. On the other hand, had I NOT read that book first, I don't think I would have appreciated this story as much.

Christine's story, at only 89 pages, needed to be fleshed out more.  Christine, the owner of the Twilight Bakery, was a minor character in The First Love Cookie Club (and apparently barely mentioned in the first two books in the series), and while I appreciated learning more about her, I felt her romance with Eli moved WAY too fast, especially as he was a widower with four children and concerned about how they'd accept a new woman in his life.  The story was also rather straightforward (no real interesting plot twists), and therefore somewhat boring.

With only 46 pages, the last story, Grace, felt very abbreviated.  The two main characters in this story, Flynn and her husband Jesse, are also the main characters in The Sweethearts' Knitting Club, which I haven't read.  If I had read it first, perhaps I would have liked this sweet little tale more.  As it was:  too predictable, and way too thin.

In the case of this book, I think it would be helpful to have read at least the first and third books in the regular series (The Sweethearts' Knitting Club, and The First Love Cookie Club) before reading this book.  I did enjoy the references to places in and near the "real" Twilight (Granbury), Texas, such as the (now defunct) Rinky-Tink's Ice Cream Parlor, Rio Brazos Music Hall (Brazos River Music Review in the book, although it's near Glen Rose and not Jubilee/Weatherford), and the Highway 51 bridge.  Still annoyed that the sheriff is named Hondo Crouch, though.  

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to the library.]

Sunday, November 30, 2014

431 (2014 #59). The First Love Cookie Club

by Lori Wilde

Normally I don't read romance novels.  However, the author of this book is coming to town this weekend, and my local book club is a (nominal, because we meet at the site) host for a meet and greet for the author and publisher on Friday night.  I thought I should read at least one of Lori Wilde's books before she gets here.

I was pleasantly surprised.

The First Love Cookie Club is the third book in the Twilight, Texas series.  They don't need to be read in order.  What makes this series interesting for me is that Twilight is loosely based on my town of Granbury, Texas.  I wanted to read some of the books to see if I could recognize any of the people, places, or events described.

Lori Wilde did a good job of giving a feel for the town without necessarily being too specific about locations.  We have lots of bed-and-breakfasts similar to the Merry Cherub, we do have a downtown courthouse square (just four blocks west from my home), and the lake is nearby as well (two blocks south).  She specifically mentions Hood County (where we are located) and Highway 377 here; but otherwise, this could be any other small North Texas town on a lake.  That is a plus in my opinion, as many readers can identify with the setting.  Yet the descriptions of places still made me feel this was definitely set in Granbury.  I even think I've seen a house here like the one pictured on the cover of this edition:

The story is set in December, beginning with Twilight's annual Christmas festival with a Dickens theme.  Well, Granbury has its annual Candlelight Tour of (mostly historic) Homes the first weekend of the month, many of the homes are Victorian, and some of the tour guides and carolers dress in Dickens style.  There's a parade (albeit the weekend before) and lots of other holiday events that, once again, are typical of many small Texas towns.

Then there are the people.  I swear the members of the First Love Cookie Club must be modeled on some of the well-known female personalities around town, past and present.

Our lead characters, the main couple, are Sarah Collier (aka Sadie Cool) one-hit-wonder author of a children's book, The Magic Christmas Cookie, and Travis Walker, local bad boy turned game warden and model single dad.  Travis' daughter Jasmine (aka Jazzy) suffers from a life-threatening illness and writes a letter to her favorite author - Sadie - wanting to meet her before she dies.

Sarah doesn't know Jazzy is Travis' daughter, and Travis doesn't know Sadie is really Sarah - who, nine years ago at age 15, interrupted his Christmas Day wedding to Jazzy's mother to tell him the magic "kismet" cookies she and her grandmother bake every Christmas make her dream of her destiny - him.

Despite the corny set-up, I found Sarah and Travis to be well-developed characters.  Sarah, the only child of two successful heart surgeons who have little time for her, now lives in New York City and is rather anti-social.  Travis is an amazingly understanding heartthrob who reminds me a lot of MY husband.  Travis has had a tough life too, losing both of his parents at a young age, and his shotgun wedding wife Crystal leaves him due to her immaturity and inability to deal with Jazzy's illness.

Both Sarah and Crystal have secrets that help explain some of their behavior - Sarah's is hinted at early on.  Another character with a secret is Travis' aunt Raylene.  Her subsequent behavior, however, comes totally out of the blue and isn't really explained in this book.  Supposedly it's explained in a novella, but I felt it was disruptive here.

The only other gripe I have is the name of another minor character - the sheriff, Hondo Crouch. He was a real person (the man who invented Luckenbach, Texas, and a swim coach at various children's camps in Texas until his death in 1976 - I actually met him).  For those of us old enough to remember him, having a character with his name is a bit disconcerting.  I can understand Hondo as a first name for a Texas sheriff character, but I wish Lori Wilde had come up with a different last name.

All in all though, this was a fun, easy, Christmas romance.  I'm off to read The Christmas Cookie Collection (four novellas about members of the First Love Cookie Club, including Raylene) next.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Thursday, November 27, 2014

430 (2014 #58). The Secrets of Inchon

by Eugene Franklin Clark,
introduction and epilogue by Thomas Fleming

My father, a Korean War veteran, loaned me this book some time ago, and I decided to read it when I started working on publishing photos from my dad's military scrapbook on my family history blog.

The Secrets of Inchon is a fascinating first-person account of the undercover espionage occurring before the important Battle of Inchon in the Korean War.  Naval Commander Eugene F. Clark (then a lieutenant), was sent to a nearby island along with two South Korean officers to obtain and transmit information needed for the United Nations assault to retake this South Korean city from the North Koreans.

Clark passed away in 1998, but wrote this account in 1951.  His daughter says her "mom, brother and I were breathlessly awaiting each page of this book as it came off the typewriter in the den of our rented house in Arlington, Virginia in the fall of 1951. We had returned from Japan that summer. We had, of course, not been aware of my Dad's spy missions while we were in Japan."  Although he had a Department of Defense clearance to publish it, Clark never did.  Thomas Fleming wrote an article about Clark in a military history journal in 2000, and Clark's family remembered the manuscript in a safety deposit box and sent it to Fleming, who saw about having it published in 2002.

Clark writes quite well, and gives credit where due to his Korean comrades (given pseudonyms to protect their identity in 1951), including the island villagers and resistance fighters in other locations who aided him.  His narrative is quite readable and exciting.  There is a map (albeit not the best) at the beginning of the book to help with locating the many islands referred to in the story, although a larger map with more detail of the island Clark was operating from (Yonghung-do) would have been helpful.  There are also some black-and-white photos of Clark, his Korean teammates, and the Inchon battle.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was loaned to me by my dad and has been returned to him.]

Friday, November 21, 2014

429 (2014 #57). The Reluctant Midwife

by Patricia Harman

I'm not sure why I received this advance reader edition - I don't remember requesting it.  While my offspring resulted with the assistance of a certified nurse-midwife, I'm not so enamored of childbirth that I'd really want to read about it.

Fortunately, this book is more about life in rural West Virginia in 1934-35, in the midst of the Great Depression and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Widowed nurse Becky Myers, the main character, has come back to the (fictional) town of Liberty along with her former boss, Dr. Isaac Blum, who is in some sort of catatonic state after the death of his wife in an auto accident.

Through a set of misfortunes, she winds up in the former home of midwife Patience Murphy, now married to the local veterinarian with one child and another on the way.  Becky gets pulled into delivering babies, particularly as Patience's own pregnancy issues make it impossible for her to do so.

Becky also gets hired as a part-time nurse for a CCC camp.  That, for me, was the most interesting part of the story.  I got a little tired of the stories about deliveries - I'm not really interested in reading those sorts of details.  I also found the situation with Dr. Blum to be rather unrealistic and (in some scenes) uncomfortable.

The author, Patricia Harman, is a midwife and has an interesting background.  The book is easy to read, divided into five parts by season of the year, with short chapters and even shorter subchapters within each.  Enjoyed the historical aspects of the book; not so much the characters or the childbirth.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This advance reader edition will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Monday, October 27, 2014

428 (2014 #56). A Fifty-Year Silence

by Miranda Richmond Mouillot

This memoir held my interest enough to keep me reading it, but not enough that I "couldn't put it down" - I could. It was hard to follow at times.

Miranda Richmond Mouillot was trying to figure out why her maternal grandparents split up and never spoke to each other again.  Despite the fact that they are still alive and lucid when she starts wondering about this, it seems she can't ask them about it.  Her grandmother, Anna, always talks in circles around the subject, and her grandfather, Armand, evades it altogether.  I found neither Anna nor Armand to be compelling; I didn't really care about them or what happened to them as Jewish refugees during World War II.  The only interesting part of their story, for me, was their escape into Switzerland.

A bit more interesting was the story of Miranda moving into her grandparents' abandoned, crumbling old house in a small village in France.  I could relate to her obsession with the house, and was pleased to see her fall in love while living there.

The uncorrected proof I received indicated that maps would be included in thefinal  book, which should be helpful both in tracing her grandparents' journeys as well as the author's.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[I received an advance reading copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Thursday, October 23, 2014

427 (2014 #55). The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

by Lauren Willig,
read by Kate Reading

I was looking in the library for a some historical fiction audiobooks, and this one came up in a catalog search.  It's really a romance and barely any historical fiction, and I didn't learn anything new about history (other than the fact that Napoleon's stepdaughter really had an English language tutor who was a suspected spy and ultimately dismissed), but it was still a fun read.

In the spring of 1803, Amy Balcourt is a 20-year-old half-French, half-British orphan (her father was guillotined, her mother pined away after) living with her aunt and uncle in England.  Her older brother invites her back to France during a truce in the ongoing hostilities between France and England, and Amy sails over with her cousin Jane and a spinster chaperone, Miss Gwen.  Since childhood, Amy has been obsessed with British spies, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and a member of his league, the Purple Gentian, who more or less takes over when the Scarlet Pimpernel is unmasked.  Amy is eager to go to France to find the Purple Gentian, learn who he is, and join his league to revenge her parents' deaths.

The Purple Gentian is really Sir Richard Selwick, 27, who just happens to be sharing Amy's boat to France.  Sparks fly between them, but (naturally) romance blossoms too.  Meanwhile, framing Amy's and Richard's story is the 2003 tale of Eloise, who is working on a dissertation on the mysterious British spy known as the Pink Carnation.  She contacts Selwick's living descendants and finds one who is helpful, the elderly Arabella Selwick-Alderly.  Mrs. Selwick-Alderly shares Amy's correspondence and journals with Eloise, much to the displeasure of her nephew Colin Selwick (and of course there we have another budding romance).

Amy is a rather foolish (and clumsy) amateur spy, and Richard behaves irrationally around her, while Napoleon and various other Bonapartes make cameo appearances throughout the book.  As I said, this book is more romance than historical fiction, and a lot of what happens is silly and implausible (and funny). Good chick-lit beach-read though - like all good romances, there's a bit of steamy sex.

This is the first of what will ultimately be 12 (full) books (there are also a novella and a bonus chapter) in the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig (whose bio sounds a bit like the Eloise character).  I thought it was interesting that the covers for many of the books in the series are based on real paintings - in this case, it's "Lady Holding Flowers in her Petticoat" by Augustus Jules Bouvier.

Kate Reading (real name:  Jennifer Mendenhall) does a fine job with American, British, and French accents and both male and female voices in the audiobook.  I might listen to a few more in the series when I'm looking for something easy and entertaining.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

426 (2014 #54). A Star for Mrs. Blake

by April Smith

This novel is set in 1931, a couple years after the United States passed unusual legislation (for the Depression era) to fund first-class travel by Gold Star Mothers to visit the graves of their sons who died in France in World War I.

The main (and title) character is Cora Blake, a fisheries worker and volunteer librarian in a coastal town in Maine, single mother to an only child, Sammy, who was killed in the war.  She is part of a group of five (somewhat stereotypical) Gold Star Mothers who are accompanied by a nurse and a military escort named Lieutenant Thomas Hammond, a recent West Point graduate and namesake son of a U.S. Army commander.

In an afterword, author April Smith revealed that Hammond was a real person, and many details in the story come from his diary.  Smith is good friends with actor Nicholas Hammond (who, by the way, played Friedrich, one of the Von Trapp children, in The Sound of Music movie), and he gave her the diary "in the hope that I might tell the story of his father,..[but]...the diary is barely a dozen incomplete pages," according to one interview.

Therefore, Smith had to do a lot of research - 25 years worth, according to another interview.  She spent time at the National Archives going through files about the 1930s Gold Star Mothers pilgrimages, traveling to all the locations in the book (including Paris, Verdun, and the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery), and interviewing residents there who had lived through the Great Depression (including a 104-year-old librarian in Maine), as well as Gold Star Mothers in a retirement home in Southern California.

The result of all this research is a story with an excellent feel for place and time, particularly with the descriptions of the battlefields near Verdun and Meuse-Argonne.  Smith also does a noteworthy job with some touchy topics, such as discrimination against black Gold Star Mothers (who traveled separately and in less style), and governmental and military rules and regulations (and b.s.), particularly with what happens to Lily, the nurse.

I felt Cora and Thomas were well-drawn characters, but the other characters were not as well-developed.  The budding romance between Cora and American journalist Griffin Reed, a World War I vet who wears a metal mask on his battle-damaged face (I immediately picture him as looking like Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire) did not ring true for me - I felt the age difference would be too great.  Interestingly, Reed is living with an American  "socialite" artist who makes the masks who was loosely modeled on real mask-maker Anna Coleman Ladd.

The ending is a bit confusing, in terms of what happens to Reed, and because of a surprise he engineers (that, in my mind, does not add to the story).  Smith, best known for her mystery thrillers and for being a writer and producer TV shows like the Cagney and Lacey police drama, must have felt a need to include the secret and a (unnecessary) death.

Nevertheless, this is a book I would recommend, because of the pieces of history it illuminates.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[I won this advance reader edition in a summer reading program sponsored by my local public library.  I'll hang on to the book for a while and eventually pass it on to someone else to enjoy.]

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

425 (2014 #53). The Romanov Bride

by Robert Alexander,
read by Gabrielle de Cuir and Stefan Rudnicki

The title of this book is a little misleading.  It implies that the book is only about the Grand Duchess Elizavyeta Feodorovna (Princess Elisabeth of Hesse, 1864-1918), granddaugher of Queen Victoria of Great Britain and older sister to Tsaritsa Alexandra, wife of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II.

"Ella," as she was known within her family (Nicholas and Alexandra were "Nicky" and "Alicky"), alternates chapters with a fictional character named Pavel.  He is a peasant who has come to Saint Petersburg with his bride in 1904.  She is killed in a originally-peaceful protest, and Pavel, wanting revenge, becomes a revolutionary.

In this way the reader sees both sides of this 1904-1918 period of unrest in Russia.  Pavel moves to Moscow and is involved in the assassination of Ella's husband, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, in 1905.  In 1908, the childless Ella sells off much of her wealth, becomes a Russian Orthodox nun, and founds the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent in Moscow.  They do good works caring for the sick and poor, but eventually Ella is arrested and eventually killed.  Pavel, having witnessed some of her good works, requests to be one of her guards, and is involved in her death.  The story is framed with Pavel imprisoned in Siberia in 1936, awaiting his own death, and telling his story to an imprisoned priest.

It was quite interesting to learn in author Robert Alexander's afterword that Ella was canonized as New Martyr Saint Elizabeth by the Russian Orthodox church in 1981 and 1992.  I had not heard of the Grand Duchess before reading this book, which uses the facts of her life as its base.

I'd be interested in reading Alexander's (real name Robert D. Zimmerman) other two books in his House of Romanov trilogy - or even better, listening to the audiobooks.  Polish-born Stefan Rudnicki has a wonderful deep, gravelly voice that was perfect for the peasant Pavel, while veteran narrator and director Gabrielle de Cuir brings her personal distinction and flare for languages to the voice of Ella (who could speak English, German, French, and Russian).

The beautiful image on the cover of the audiobook (at the top of this post) is a painting of the Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna by Friedrich August von Kaulbach.  The hardbound book cover (pictured above) features a photograph of her from the Russian State Archive, which was probably taken at the same time as other photographs dated July 1887.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

424 (2014 #52). The Matchmaker

by Elin Hilderbrand,
read by Erin Bennett

Chick-lit beach-read romance about a married woman who meets up with the love of her life (and the father of her daughter) 27 years after he leaves Nantucket Island to pursue a career in journalism.  Dabney Kimball Beech is now married to a Harvard economist, John Boxmiller "Box" Beech, who commutes to the island for weekends because Dabney won't leave it.  Her mother abandoned her in a New York City hotel when she was 10, and, except for her years at Harvard and necessary medical appointments, she stays put in Nantucket. Not surprisingly, she becomes the island's biggest cheerleader as executive director of the chamber of commerce.

Then Pulitzer prizewinner Clendenin "Clen" Hughes returns to Nantucket, after losing one arm while pursuing a story.  He immediately pursues Dabney, and it doesn't take her long to succumb.

I found both Dabney and Clen to be unlikable characters.  Box, who marries her and adopts and raises her daughter Agnes, is indirectly blamed for Dabney's affair with Clen because he isn't attentive enough.  Oh please.  The man is forced by Dabney's reluctance to leave the island to be a commuter husband, yet he resists the temptation of an attractive co-worker and (I assume) numerous Harvard co-eds.  Agnes is the most interesting character, as she finds she's better off without her control-freak fiance and becomes friends with someone far more appropriate.

Actress Erin Bennett is a good audiobook reader, but this story moved very slowly.  Dabney also has a reputation as a successful matchmaker, with 40-something couples to her credit.  The stories of a few of those intersperse chapters told from the viewpoints of the four main characters, which slows the narrative down.

Author Elin Hilderbrand writes romances set on Nantucket, where she lives.  This book doesn't particularly inspire me to read any more of them.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Sunday, September 28, 2014

423 (2014 #51). The Lost Wife

by Alyson Richman

Beautiful book about a couple separated by the Nazi occupation of Prague.  A young Josef and Lenka marry just before he and his family of origin escape.  They are able to get exit papers for Lenka, but not for her parents and sister, so Lenka refuses to go, deciding to wait until Josef can send for them all.

Of course, that doesn't happen.  Josef and his family head for America on the SS Athenia.  The ship is torpedoed and they are reported as dead - but Josef survives.  Shortly afterward, Lenka and her family are shipped to Terazin's "model" concentration camp.  A strength of the novel is author Alyson Richman's descriptions of life there, incorporating real people such as artist and art teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis.

Finally, in November 1944, Lenka's mother is chosen to be transported east, and once again, the family decides to stick together.  They are all sent to Auschwitz.  Ultimately only Lenka survives.

Josef's letters to Lenka are returned, so each think the other is dead, and they marry other people; Lenka an American soldier.  They meet once again at the wedding of their grandchildren.  This isn't a spoiler, as it happens at the beginning of the book.  The rest of the story is told in the alternating voices of Lenka and Josef, in the past and in the present (2000).  The novel winds up at the present-day wedding.

In an afterword, author Alyson Richman said she overheard a story about a bride's grandmother and groom's grandfather meeting at a wedding and realizing they'd been married before the war.  Richman also said in an interview that she made Lenka an art student " so I could weave in my historical research about various artists who had survived Terezin and Auschwitz by using their artistic skills."

While I didn't quite buy the romance between Josef and Lenka and its long life (61 years!), I did enjoy the historical aspects of this novel, and would definitely read some of Richman's other books.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was borrowed and returned through interlibrary loan.]

Friday, September 26, 2014

422 (2014 #50). The Bees

by Laline Paull,
performed by Orlagh Cassidy

This is an incredible book.  It anthropomorphizes bees and their life in the hive, making the bees' devotion to their queen analogous to a religion, with cult-like behavior, control by the "Hive Mind," and "Accept, Obey, and Serve" the motto of every worker.

Like a real hive, this one also has a caste system, but it's not quite so rigid.  Flora 717, born an ugly, deformed sanitation worker, somehow has the ability to communicate and to make royal jelly (called Flow in the book).  She is saved from death by a higher-caste priestess bee (a Sage of the Melissae - I loved the way the different castes were named for different types of flowers--and in this case the flower name is a wonderful pun--and knew from reading The Secret Life of Bees that Melissae means "bees" in Greek).

There are also some parallels with Catholicism.  The worker bees (all female) refer to each other as "Sister [flower/caste]," and the pheromone the queen bee uses to control fertility in the workers is described in terms of incense.  The prayer workers recite is a variation on the Catholic "Hail Mary" ("Our Mother, who art in labor, Hallowed be Thy womb; Thy marriage done, They Queendom come...").  There is a daily sacrament of Devotion (more of the queen's pherormenes), except for the queen's ladies-in-waiting, who maintain the "Stories of Scent," much like the mysteries of the Rosary.

The reader gets to explore the many different roles of worker bees, as Flora moves from being a nurse to helping to kill a wasp invader (earning some time with the queen) to foraging for food, due to a shortage of workers.  She encounters perils both natural (the Myriad:  wasps - the Vespa, their Latin genus name, as well as birds and spiders; and a carnivorous plant) and man-made (a cell-phone tower, and the effects of pesticides and human intervention in man-made hives).  She serves the drones, the useless male bees, and encounters them on a foraging flight in a congregation area.

Much, much more happens in the book, as it covers a good year of the life of a hive, but you'll just have to read it.  Flora begins to lay eggs, and "only the queen may breed."

This is Laline Paull's first novel.  She began to research bees when a young beekeeper friend died, and was fascinated by the parallels with human society.  When she learned about the unusual laying worker bee, she had the idea for the book, and rushed to write about it before anyone else did.  After reading her book, I too am inspired to learn more about bees - she even suggests some books in a recent interview.  Paull is the daughter of immigrants from India, and confirms in that same interview that the Dalits of India, the untouchables, were "one of the influences in this work" for lowest-caste sanitation worker Flora.

The audiobook case for The Bees says it is "performed by Orlagh Cassidy," and that is completely true.  The actress does a fantastic job creating believable voices for a myriad of characters, with the wasps and spiders sounding particularly evil.

I definitely recommend this book, especially to book clubs.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Sunday, September 21, 2014

421 (2014 #49). The Woman Who Would Be King

by Kara Cooney

Probably best for those with an intense interest in ancient Egypt, this book is nonetheless an interesting one, about a little-known early female ruler, Hatshepsut.  Author Kara Cooney, a professor of Egyptian art and architecture, makes a lot of assumptions about the life of this woman, as there is little left about her in the historical record (and her suppositions as to why that is the case are part of this narrative, too).  My advance reader edition had 41 pages of footnotes (which were not quite complete) and an 11-page bibliography, so it is clear the book is well-researched.  This isn't a book for the merely curious, as the terminology assumes that the reader is familiar with Egyptology.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[I received an advance reading copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

420 (2014 #48). Spic-and-Span!

by Monica Kulling,
illustrated by David Parkins

I love the books Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel Belles on Their Toes, about industrial engineers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their large family in the early 1900s!  I was excited to receive this hardbound picture book biography of Lillian to review.  She was a pioneer in her field and an inventor in the area of ergonomics.  I had not realized she was responsible for the electric mixer, refrigerator compartments, and trash cans with foot pedal lid openers!  The author, Monica Kulling, has written other books in her "Great Ideas" picture book biography series that I would like to acquire for my university library's children's literature collection, used by future teachers. (This book is definitely being added.)  David Parkins' pen-and-ink with watercolor illustrations are amusing and add to the story.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[I received a hardbound final copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It has been added to my university library's collection.]

Friday, September 12, 2014

419 (2014 #47). A Long Fatal Love Chase

by Louisa May Alcott

Remember those "sensation" stories Jo March writes in Little Women?  In chapter 27, "Literary Lessons," Jo decides to enter a competition in

that class of light literature in which the passions have a holiday, and when the author's invention fails, a grand catastrophe clears the state of one-half the dramatis persona, leaving the other half to exult over their downfall....Her theatrical experience and miscellaneous reading were of service now, for they gave her some idea of dramatic effect, and supplied plot, language, and costumes.  Her story was as full of desperation and despair as her limited acquaintance with those uncomfortable emotions enabled her to make it...

Jo wins the competition (and $100), and keeps writing such thrillers to pay the family bills.  In chapter 34, "A Friend," Jo continues

writing sensation stories - for in those dark days, even all-perfect America read rubbish....Like most young scribblers, she went abroad for her characters and thrills could not be produced except by harrowing up the souls of the readers, history and romance, land and sea, science and art, police records and lunatic asylums, had to be ransacked for the purpose....she searched newspapers for accidents, incidents, and crimes; she excited the suspicions of public librarians by asking for works on poisons; she studied faces in the street, - and characters good, bad, and indifferent, all about her; she delved in the dust of ancient times, for facts or fictions so old that they were as good as new, and introduced herself to folly, sin, and misery, as well as her limited opportunities allowed.

A Long Fatal Love Chase is the serialized "blood and thunder" story Jo March might have written.  Even more interesting, though, is the story behind the story.  After returning from a trip to Europe in 1866, where she served as a paid companion to an invalid, Louisa May Alcott sold her novella Behind the Mask (or, A Woman's Power) to editor James Elliott for the Boston weekly The Flag of Our Union for $75 in August. (It appeared in four installments in October and November of that year).  Incorporating settings from her trip, in September, Alcott's journal indicates she "finished the long tale A Modern Mephistopheles.   But Elliott would not have it, saying it was too long & too sensational!  So I put it away & fell to work on other things."

After Alcott's death in 1888, the manuscript wound up in a Harvard library archive, where it was described as "A modern Mephistopheles, or The fatal love chase. ... A completely different novel from that published as A modern Mephistopheles in the No Name series, 1877. This novel apparently unpublished. ... NOTE: This item returned to family, 1991."

According to a September 1995 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Alcott's grandnephews put the manuscript on the market to raise money for the Louisa May Alcott Foundation, which operates Orchard House, the Alcott home in Concord, Masssachusetts, where she wrote Little Women.  It languished unsold for a few years until a New Hampshire private school principal named Kent Bicknell purchased it (with the help of a financial backer) in 1994.  He restored the much-revised text to the original (as submitted in 1866), and the profits from its subsequent publication were shared with Alcott's heirs, Orchard House, and Bicknell's school respectively.  

Elliott had requested a novel of 24 chapters, with every other chapter ending with a bit of a cliffhanger, for serialization purposes.  That is what Alcott has written here. The title and the cover blurb kind of give the plot away, but it's an easy and fun (and rather dark Gothic) read nonetheless.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This paperback was purchased at a Friends of the Library book sale and will likely remain in my personal collection.]

Friday, August 29, 2014

418 (2014 #46). Spy the Lie

by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant

read by Fred Berman

This book is subtitled, "Former CIA Officers Teach You How To Detect Deception," and that is exactly what this book is about.  Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero are all former Central Intelligence Agency employees who are now the founding partners of QVerity, "a company that provides training and consulting services worldwide in deception detection, screening, and interviewing techniques" (page 243).  Tennant, the "writer" (as opposed to the other three, who are listed as "authors"), is also a partner in the company, a former research analyst with the National Security Agency, and a former journalist and editor.

The book describes a methodology and techniques to identify when someone *might* be trying to deceive you.

I think what's best about the book are the real-life examples that are used to illustrate the principles of the book taken from in-the-headlines interviews by journalists or law enforcement:  Bill Clinton, O. J. Simpson, Dick Cheney, Tea Party member and former Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling, murderer Scott Peterson, former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, sexting Congressman Anthony Weiner, and former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.  The second of two appendices is a lengthy narrative analysis of Bob Costa's November 2011 interview of Sandusky before he was tried and found guilty of sexual abuse of minors.

Of course, it's easier to conduct an analysis identifying deception indicators after the interview, as opposed to during it.  I don't think the book provides quite enough detail on applying these techniques in real time - but of course, how would the authors make their money in training and consulting if they gave away all their secrets in the book?

The book is full of many examples of deceptive behaviors (both verbal and nonverbal) encountered in interviews, as well as the types of questions to ask.  Furthermore, the first of two appendices includes suggested questions for four scenarios a reader might have:  interviewing a potential caregiver for children, asking your child about drug or alcohol use, confronting a significant other about infidelity, and asking about theft situations.

This audiobook won the 2013 Audie Award for the Business / Educational category, which is why I purchased it for my library's collection.  The book is very well read by actor Fred Berman.  However, as with most nonfiction, I'd have to recommend reading rather than listening to this book.  I found I often had to listen to some sections of the book a number of times before I felt I "got" the information presented.  Even though Berman reads the appendices, sidebars and the information in the figures / diagrams, those aspects in particular are more "readable" in print.  Furthermore, the print book has a glossary, about the authors section, and index.

I'd read this book again in hopes of absorbing more of its material.  If anything, it should help me figure out when a politician or celebrity is lying.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively.]

Saturday, August 23, 2014

417 (2014 #45). The Buddha in the Attic

by Julie Otsuka,
read by Samantha Quan and Carrington MacDuffie

This historical fiction novel tells the story of Japanese "picture brides" coming to California in the early 1900s.  It begins with their journey on the ship from Japan, and continues through their first nights with their new husbands (few of whom match their photos or descriptions), their work and lives in America, the birth and raising of their children, and the effects of World War II on them all, culminating with their being sent away to relocation camps.  The final chapter of the book is written from the point of view of the non-Japanese families left behind.

The latter section of the book is strongest.  California-born author Julie Otsuka's Japanese-American grandfather was arrested as a suspected spy the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, and his wife and children (including Otsuka's mother) spent three years in the Topaz, Utah relocation center.

The book is unusual in that it is written almost entirely in first person plural, and it reads almost like free verse, thanks to the repetition of phrases (usually at the beginning of sentences).  This does get tedious after a while, as the repetition makes the book start sounding like a series of lists.  That, and the use of the "we" narrator, limits character development.

This book won the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2011 Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction, and was a 2011 National Book Award finalist for fiction.  Actress Samantha Quan reads most of the book, while well-known audiobook narrator Carrington MacDuffie handles the final chapter.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

416 (2014 #44). Torn Away

by Jennifer Brown

Jersey Cameron is a typical sixteen-year-old from a blended family in a Missouri town.  She has a five-year-old often-annoying half-sister, Marin, who her mother has just taken to a dance lesson, and Jersey is home alone when a tornado strikes.

The first couple days after the twister are harrowing.  Jersey doesn't know where any of her family are, so she sticks close to her ravaged home.  Later she learns her mother and sister died, and her stepfather is too devastated to care for her.  He sends her first to her birth father's family, a bunch of stereotypical hicks.  That doesn't work out, so she's sent on to the maternal grandparents she's never met.

Through Jersey's thoughts and observations during and after the storm, author Jennifer Brown (who also writes women's fiction under the name Jennifer Scott) makes the reader see and feel the heartbreak and devastation of the tornado.  Especially poignant are the little pictures and captions Jersey draws of Marin on gum wrappers from gum in Marin's Mom-castoff purse.

The purse is one of the few things to survive the storm, along with a porcelain kitten, one of many Jersey would receive in the mail on her birthday that she assumed were sent by her estranged father.  You can probably guess who really sent them.

The book ends on a hopeful note.  The book is suggested for ages 12 and up, and I certainly think it's appropriate for middle school and high school - as well as adults.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[I received an advance reading copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Friday, August 08, 2014

415 (2014 #43). Sea Glass

by Anita Shreve,
read by Kyra Sedgwick

Sea Glass begins in June 1929, when 20-year-old Honora Willard Beecher and her new husband, 24-year-old traveling salesman Sexton, are moving into an old dilapidated house on the New Hampshire coast just outside a mill town, fixing it up in lieu of rent.  When the house is put up for sale, Sexton finagles a way to buy it.  Then October comes, and the stock market crashes.

The reader learns more about the five main characters in chapters told from their points of view.  Honora has had a rough life, losing her father and her youngest brother in the Halifax explosion.  Sexton is an amazingly good salesman - maybe too good.  McDermott is a 20-year-old Irish immigrant working in the mills, losing his hearing from the noise, helping to support his orphaned siblings, and meeting with other men considering forming a union.  He befriends 11-year-old Francis (named Alphonse in some editions), a French immigrant also working in the mills and contributing to his family's income.  Vivian is a 28-year-old wealthy, bored, decadent socialite who comes to the coast for the summers.

In the early chapters, these people's lives start to intersect subtly, building to the chapters where they (and a few more minor characters) all come together to provide support for an upcoming strike at the mill.  There's both romance and tragedy in the story.  It was interesting to learn more about the labor movement in this period of American history, particularly as it affected the workers who went on strike, and the violence sometimes associated with it.

The title of the novel comes from the sea glass that Honora collects.  Sea glass has its sharp edges smoothed by the action of the waves and sand, and that serves as a metaphor for what happens in the book.

Actress Kyra Sedgwick does an awesome job reading this audiobook, with just that right emotion and nuances at all the right times.

I picked up this audiobook at my local public library because it was historical fiction and because it was short - I can listen to one audiobook CD a day during my commute and I had five days available before the start of my vacation.  I did not look that closely at the cover and was surprised to discover afterwards that it was an abridgment.  The abridgment (not by the author) was well done in that the novel flowed well, but it makes me wonder what I might have missed (apparently something about the house being a former convent, for one thing). I'm tempted to read the print book now!

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn, in the introduction by Anita Shreve, that this was her third book set in a certain old New England beach house (modeled after a real one), just in a different era.  I'm familiar with The Pilot's Wife, set in contemporary times, but I'm very curious to read Fortune's Rocks, set in 1899.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]